Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist that is prescribed to help people struggling with opioid addiction taper off physical dependence on narcotics. This brand name medication is a combination of buprenorphine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002, and naloxone, a blockbuster medication that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses.
Suboxone was developed as a tamper-resistant way to help people overcome opioid addiction and abuse. When taken appropriately, the buprenorphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain, reducing or preventing withdrawal symptoms, and allowing the physician to slowly taper the dose, thereby reducing the patient’s physical dependence on opioids. If the medication is abused by crushing and snorting or injecting the resulting substance, the naloxone binds to the opioid receptors instead, preventing the person from feeling the effects of the buprenorphine for about 20 minutes and sending them into withdrawal, which can be very uncomfortable.
Mental Side Effects
Suboxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, and this can change the person’s mental state. Mental and emotional changes include:
- Memory difficulties
- Anxiety or fear
- Irritability or mood swings
When a physician does not closely work with their patient to taper Suboxone slowly as part of the detox process, that individual may become addicted to Suboxone as a replacement for other narcotics. This problem has become serious in some states, such as Kentucky.
Physical Side Effects
Both full and partial opioid agonists have effects on the body. Some of the physical side effects of Suboxone include:
- Reduced or slowed breathing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Stomach pain or changes in appetite
- Loss of coordination
- Abuse or addiction
- Changes in appetite
- Withdrawal symptoms, including excessive sweating and joint pain
- Liver damage
Most medical professionals agree that buprenorphine’s “ceiling effect” prevents overdose for the most part. This means that, when a person takes a large amount of buprenorphine, it only leads to intoxication up to a point; when the body has too much buprenorphine, the drug simply does not bind to the opioid receptors anymore.
When a person abuses Suboxone, however, it is possible that the withdrawal symptoms induced by naloxone reduce the body’s tolerance to narcotics, which allows buprenorphine to induce stronger narcotic effects. This can lead to serious respiratory depression, coma, and death.
It is also possible to overdose on Suboxone when the drug is combined with other central nervous system depressants. This includes other opioid drugs, as well as tranquilizers, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and alcohol. The FDA’s warning about combining other drugs with Suboxone clarifies that mixing medications and/or recreational drugs can intensify the effects of the buprenorphine, which can lead to overdose.
Treatment for Suboxone Abuse
People who struggle with addiction need social and medical support to overcome this chronic health issue. While detox is the first step, and Suboxone can help with that process, it is very important to continue with a rehabilitation program to overcome addiction. With proper care, a person can develop better coping mechanisms and go on to live a sober, healthy life.